From my hostel in Hiroshima I took the tram to Hiroshima Station and then began the short trip to the island of Miyajima. A train brought me to Miyajimaguchi Station just outside the city and then it was just a short walk to the ferry port straight down the street from the station. Ferries run frequently between the island and the mainland so you won’t be waiting long to catch the next one. Most of the other people on the ferry were hanging out inside the boat but I stayed up on the deck to take in the sights on the short ride across the bay. It was a cool day with thick grey clouds covering the entire sky. As we steadily got closer to the island I could make out Itsukushima Shrine and its famed torii gate—the thing that most people were coming to the island to see, including myself.
Soon the ferry arrived and I set foot on Miyajima. Officially the island is named Itsukushima, but everyone calls it Miyajima, which translates to “shrine island.” The guesthouse I was staying in was about a 15-minute walk from the ferry port and the path to it took me right past Itsukushima Shrine. I could see that the tide was out and everyone was down on the beach getting hanging out with the shrine’s large torii gate. Along the way I also saw that Miyajima, like Nara, has a number of wild deer that freely roam around the little town on the island. Check-in at my guesthouse took longer than expected and I dropped my backpack in my room in a hurry and then went back down to the beach to get up close with the torii gate before the tide came in.
I arrived on the beach as the water was starting to creep in from the bay. While I could still walk up and touch the torii gate there was now water flowing underneath it and the tide steadily continued to rise. For the next hour I took an absurd number of photos of the gate from varying angles. The advancing tide meant I was slowly pushed back further and further from it and a few times I got my shoes wet. As the tide crept further forward the sun was also going down and as it was getting dark I got off the beach. It would be quite a few more hours before peak tide set in but the torii gate was already surrounded by shallow water out in the bay.
At that point I went back to my guesthouse to properly unload my backpack and prepare my bed. The place I was staying at had Japanese-style bedding on tatami mats, and I think this was my first time experiencing that sort of bed. When everything was properly set up I went out and walked around Miyajima’s little town. Everything was shutting down but I did find a grocery store that was still open and I bought some food for dinner. After eating at the guesthouse I went back out and got a few photos of the torii gate at night. Floodlights along the shore illuminated the gate from one side and I used a stone lanterns to help steady my camera for clearer shots. Later that night I discovered that my guesthouse had a Japanese-style shower room with a small tub and I got another mini-onsen experience like I had in Kyoto. I remember that later that night I was writing the day’s events in my notebook, still steaming hot from my bath, when I started hearing rain hitting the roof. That was not what I wanted to hear.
The weather forecast showed that the rain would continue all night and throughout most of the next day, and unfortunately for me Japanese weather forecasts again proved themselves very reliable (unlike weather forecasts where I live in America). I woke up at 7:30am to a downpour of rain that was washing away nearly all of my plans for that day. Originally I was going to go into the actual buildings of Itsukushima Shrine, do some other things around the island, and then leave in the late afternoon, but with the rain I would end up scaling back to just visiting the shrine and then leaving the island in the late morning. There was nothing I could do about the weather, so I just ate breakfast, packed up my backpack, and then set out to do a little bit of sightseeing in the rain.
When I came down to the water the tide was high and the shrine’s torii gate had taken on its classic appearance. Even on a rainy day like that one the sight of Miyajima’s floating torii is something to behold and I snapped a few photos of it from different sides before entering Itsukushima Shrine, which also looks like its floating when the tide comes in. There was some sort of event or ceremony going on that day and I saw a ton of women in kimonos walking around and seated in various sections of the shrine. The pouring rain actually gave the shrine an interesting ambience, though I’m guessing all those people in traditional attire would have preferred a clear day for whatever was going on. I did my best to just stay out of the way and photograph the shrine without intruding on the event. About halfway through the shrine I stepped back out into the rain on the shrine’s large outdoor deck. A short line had formed for the spot where you could take a head-on photo of the torii gate and I ended up taking the photo of a Western couple with their camera and they in turn got a photo of me with my camera. They were about my age and I didn’t ask them where they were from but I’m guessing by their accents that they were from either America or Canada. I then returned to the covered part of the shrine and finished up my tour.
As I was exiting the shrine I checked the time and saw I only had a few more minutes before needing to head back to the guesthouse so I took a quick look around the area near the shrine and then went to get my backpack. Then I made my way to the ferry port and took the next ferry back to the mainland. While on the ferry I was watching from the deck as Miyajima’s famed torii slowly got smaller and smaller. I had seen the island’s main attraction, but there was a lot more to Miyajima and I knew that if I ever returned I would need to spend at least two nights to do the island justice. Oh well, that’s a lesson for future journeys. On the mainland I got on a train back to Hiroshima station where I’d catch a shinkansen (bullet train) to take me even further west in my trek across Japan. Next in line was Nagasaki on the western island of Kyushu.